The entirety of the Agent Carter finale feels like the writers’ room looked at their board of index cards cataloguing ongoing storylines and realized they’d bitten off more than they could wrap up effectively in eight quick episodes. In these last hours, ignored relationships fly back in (literally and figuratively) as quickly as they were scrapped half a season ago, the climax is kept decidedly small-scale and simple, and multiple shortcuts leave everything a bit un-factchecked and everyone a bit out of character for the sake of squeezing in the most important beats. The worst part about these shortcuts is that if some superfluous scenes had been removed, those wasted minutes could have been spent filling in details elsewhere. For example, the only true reason that the “6 months earlier” cut scene with Dottie and Howard Stark is important is because Bridget Regan looks gorgeous in that black evening gown. It doesn’t offer up any new information or insight into the characters; even Howard’s memory fails to get jogged about that earlier weekend once he’s in the hanger. Instead of inserting unnecessary tidbits such as that one, the finale would have been better off fleshing out more of the underserved specifics of the resolution.
The penultimate episode of Agent Carter’s debut season spends a lot of time running in place, moving the pieces around to make sure everyone is in position for what is sure to be an action-packed finale. While some of this is surely necessary, like the slow reveal of Dottie and Ivchenko’s plan or the redemption of Peggy Carter in the eyes of the SSR, this episode does more to stall the second half of the season’s momentum than it does to build excitement for the final installment. This is a glorified bottle episode with only a few scenes taking place outside the SSR office, a money saving tactic presumably applied here to allow for a more explosive episode next week, and all of the emotional beats feel as cramped as the characters.
The farther Agent Carter moves past its initial stage of world building and character expansion, the more its confidence increases. These bravado storytelling shifts not only allow the show to expand Peggy’s world of espionage and danger, but make the characters around her more vivid. Last week, Agent Carter finally found the time to make Peggy’s coworkers interesting and even gave them a reason to care about her in return, prompting them to start viewing her as something more than a secretary. This week, everything is turned on its head as the SSR proves Peggy is the mystery woman they are after and takes action to detain her. The episode capitalizes on the agents’ only recently established compassion towards Peggy and flips it, with Sousa and Thompson far more betrayed by her presumed actions against the SSR than they would have been a few weeks ago (Thompson’s is a more drastic shift than Sousa’s, of course). Thompson allows himself to be caught off guard by Peggy’s fighting skills in the alley even though he’s heard what she is capable of, still underestimating her willingness to knock out a fellow agent. Sousa (foreseeably) falls prey to his feelings for Peggy and lets her run away. The fight in the diner between Peggy and the federal agents sent to detain her is as stylistically elegant as anything this season and a rollercoaster to watch. It is telling of how far the show has come from that her ability to evade capture is believable, instead of feeling like the other agents involved are incompetent and Sousa and Thompson only allow her to go for the sake of plot machinations.
“The Iron Ceiling” is the episode Agent Carter has been building to all season, and the kind of hour it needs most at this point in its run, now that the show’s world is mostly established. The episode more than makes up for the minimal forward momentum in the Howard Stark/Leviathan quadrants, with increasing character depth and backstories for multiple auxiliary players that until now have been given short shrift. A big problem that the show needs to work around is that everyone besides Howard, and maybe Jarvis, exists only to support Peggy or expand on her as a character. Some headway is made with this during the team’s trip to Russia to intercept the transfer of blueprints between Leviathon and a mystery seller who the SSR is led to believe is Stark. It’s only enough to hint at what the show is capable of doing rather than completely break down the walls between Peggy and her icy coworkers, but a hint of steady character building at this stage is worth much more than an endless stream of exposition about secret organizations and deadly weapons.
After a week off due to the State of the Union Address, Agent Carter is back with an episode that unfortunately finds more in common with the most recent episode than the two-parter that kicked things off. The late-in-the-episode confrontation between Peggy and Howard offers some punch to the proceedings, mostly due to Dominic Cooper’s presence, but far too much of the run time is once again concerned with repetitive office politics and reiterations of Peggy’s current status as a woman in this world than anything related to the overarching mythology or missions. However, a few interesting developments point towards an exciting turn for Peggy, Jarvis, and company in the weeks to come.
First things first, “Time and Tide” is a very boring hour of television compared to the boom of a start Agent Carter got off to in its first two episodes. It’s one thing to spend all of a season’s budget in the pilot, it is another thing to make that explicitly clear by having the very next installment turn out dull as dirt. Through the first 48 minutes or so of the episode, close to nothing happens besides small talk and exposition between various characters. What’s worse, much of this dialogue is used to dispense information the audience should already know, or at least be able to guess is coming a mile away. For a limited event series currently confined to eight episodes, an entire week dedicated to wheel spinning makes little sense and results in about as much entertainment throughout. Then even when the last few minutes start vomiting out important developments, they don’t hit with any weight whatsoever because the show is trying to have things resonate emotionally after only knowing these characters for a short period of time. The result is a great big mess of an episode that doesn’t do much in the way of convincing anyone that it can successfully maintain all of the thrills and feverish action that the strong suit of the pilot.
Agent Carter is an interesting property, in that it is a spinoff of an ongoing movie franchise centering on a major supporting character from that franchise who is also being portrayed by the same actress as in the film. Audiences who watched the first Captain America film (which is presumably most of the series’ initial audience) are already familiar with Hayley Atwell as Agent Peggy Carter of the SSR, giving the pilot episode the task of not only reestablishing her as a character, but doing so for any new viewers without alienating existing fans with repetitive exposition. On top of that, the show has to fill in the blanks as to what has changed for Peggy since the war ended and her high-flying adventures alongside Steve Rogers came to a close. It does all of this succinctly, with the wise decision to pour a ton of background information out all at once in the beginning of the pilot and then sprinkle references to her time as Captain America’s sort-of-partner throughout the rest of the two-hour premiere.